THE WORK OF A BIRD DOG (December 10/12)

At the bottom of a cornfield, where the uplands merge with the dykes, a farmer clearing debris on his land had deposited a huge brush pile near a patch of bog grass.

From instinct or from past experience, my bird dog usually gravitates towards brushy, boggy areas when I hunt pheasants. This morning was no exception. Jake zeroed in on the brush as we approached it. I wasn’t totally surprised when he froze on point, his nose only inches from the tangle of brush.

I expected a pheasant to flush but instead Jake broke the point and crashed into the brush pile. There’s no other way to describe what he did – one moment he was rock solid, the next he was ripping and tearing in the jumble of alders and blackberry cane. Then I heard the flutter of bird wings. Seconds later Jake emerged from the brush carrying a live rooster pheasant.

By an unusual coincidence, this was the same brush pile the dog caught a crippled cock bird in last season. That brush pile rooster and the rooster he caught this season were both wing-tipped, probably by hunters who weren’t using dogs.

Last season my bird dog caught two pheasants other hunters had crippled. This year so far Jake caught three pheasants hunters had left in the field. In a typical pheasant season my bird dog usually picks up a couple of cripples. The dog has saved the day many a time for me as well, running down and retrieving birds our hunting party – myself included – had made sloppy shots on.

The point here is that bird dogs are great conservationists. Besides adding an element of satisfaction to the hunting of game birds – the satisfaction and enjoyment of seeing bird dogs at work in fields, woods and water – bird dogs, as an old friend used to say, are “good cleaner uppers.” Meaning they’re good at finding birds other hunters lost and good at finding birds we might’ve lost if we’d been hunting without a dog.

I’m really surprised, by the way, when I meet hunters who say they’re in the field a lot, are serious about waterfowl and upland hunting, and they don’t have a bird dog. I realise keeping a bird dog is time consuming and can restrict everyday activities. Bird dogs need a lot of care and attention and some hunters find it’s too much responsibility to take on. Yet how can anyone who doesn’t keep a bird dog claim they’re serious, conscientious hunters?

After keeping and hunting bird dogs for over 50 years, I can’t imagine ever going afield without one. They add so much joy to the hunt and the benefits are endless. I’ve had goods bird dogs and so-so bird dogs, but you know what? Even the dogs I’ve had that were run-of-the-mill were a thousands times better than no dog at all.

To that I say “Amen.”

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